Building a redundant pair of Linux storage servers using DRBD and Heartbeat

9 September 2012 — 16 Comments

I’ve been building redundant storage solutions for years. At first, I used it for our webcluster storage. Nowadays it’s the base of our CloudStack Cloud-storage. If you ask me, the best way to create a redundant pair of Linux storage servers using Open Source software, is to use DRBD. Over the years it has proven to be rock solid to me.

DRBD is a Distributed Replicated Block Device. You can think of DRBD as RAID-1 between two servers. Data is mirrored from the primary to the secondary server. When the primary fails, the secondary takes over and all services remain online. DRBD provides tools for failover but it does not handled the actual failover. Cluster management software like Heartbeat and PaceMaker are made for this.

In this post I’ll show you how to install and configure DRBD, create file systems using LVM2 on top of the DRBD device, serve the file systems using NFS and manage the cluster using Heartbeat.

Installing and configuring DRBD
I’m using mostly Debian so I’ll focus on this OS. I did setup DRBD on CentOS as well. You need to use the ELREPO repository to find the right packages.

Squeeze-backports has a newer version of DRBD. If you, like me, want to use this version instead of the one in Squeeze itself, use this method to do so:

echo "
deb squeeze-backports main contrib non-free
" >> /etc/apt/sources.list

echo "Package: drbd8-utils
Pin: release n=squeeze-backports
Pin-Priority: 900
" > /etc/apt/preferences.d/drbd

Then install the DRBD utils:

apt-get update
apt-get install drbd8-utils

As the DRBD-servers work closely together, it’s important to keep the time synchronised. Install a NTP system for this job.

apt-get install ntp ntpdate

You also need a kernel module but that one is in the stock Debian kernel. If you’re compiling kernels yourself, make sure to include this module. When you’re ready, load the module:

modprobe drbd

Verify if all went well by checking the active modules:

lsmod | grep drbd

The expected output is something like:

drbd 191530 4 
lru_cache 12880 1 drbd
cn 12933 1 drbd

Most online tutorials instruct you to edit ‘/etc/drbd.conf’. I’d suggest not to touch that file and create one in /etc/drbd.d/ instead. That way, your changes are never overwritten and it’s clear what local changed you made.

vim /etc/drbd.d/redundantstorage.res

Enter this configuration:

resource redundantstorage {
 protocol C;
 startup { wfc-timeout 0; degr-wfc-timeout 120; }

disk { on-io-error detach; }
 on {
  device /dev/drbd0;
  disk /dev/sda3;
  meta-disk internal;
 on {
  device /dev/drbd0;
  disk /dev/sda3;
  meta-disk internal;

Make sure your hostnames match the hostnames in this config file as it will not work otherwise. To see the current hostname, run:

uname -n

Modify /etc/hosts, /etc/resolv.conf and/or /etc/hostname to your needs and do not continue until the actual hostname matches the one you set in the configuration above.

Also, make sure you did all the steps so far on both servers.

It’s now time to initialise the DRBD device:

drbdadm create-md redundantstorage
drbdadm up redundantstorage
drbdadm attach redundantstorage
drbdadm syncer redundantstorage
drbdadm connect redundantstorage

Run this on the primary server only:

drbdadm -- --overwrite-data-of-peer primary redundantstorage

Monitor the progress:

cat /proc/drbd

Start the DRBD service on both servers:

service drbd start

You now have a raw block device on /dev/drbd0 that is synced from the primary to the secondary server.

Using the DRBD device
Let’s create a filesystem on our new DRBD device. I prefer using LVM since that makes it easy to manage the partitions later on. But you may also simply use the /dev/drbd0 device as any block device on its own.

Initialize LVM2:

pvcreate /dev/drbd0
vgcreate redundantstorage /dev/drbd0

We now have a LVM2 volume group called ‘redundantstorage’ on device /dev/drbd0

Create the desired LVM partitions on it like this:

lvcreate -L 1T -n web_files redundantstorage
lvcreate -L 250G -n other_files redundantstorage

The partitions you create are named like the volume group. You can now use ‘/dev/redundantstorage/web_files’ and ‘/dev/redundantstorage/other_files’ like you’d otherwise use ‘/dev/sda3’ etc.

Before we can actually use them, we need to create a file system on top:

mkfs.ext4 /dev/redundantstorage/web_files
mkfs.ext4 /dev/redundantstorage/other_files

Finally, mount the file systems:

mkdir /redundantstorage/web_files
mkdir /redundantstorage/other_files
mount /dev/redundantstorage/web_files /redundantstorage/web_files
mount /dev/redundantstorage/other_files /redundantstorage/other_files

Using the DRBD file systems
Two more steps are needed to set up before we can test our new redundant storage cluster: Heartbeat to manage the cluster and NFS to make use of it. Let’s start with NFS, so Heartbeat will be able to manage that late on as well.

To install NFS server, simply run:

apt-get install nfs-kernel-server

Then setup what folders you want to export using your NFS server.

vim /etc/exports

And enter this configuration:


Pay attention to the the ‘fsid’ parameter. It is really important because it tells the clients that the file system on the primary and secondary are both the same. If you omit this parameter, the clients will ‘hang’ and wait for the old primary to come back online after a fail over happens. Since this is not what we want, we need to tell the clients the other server is simply the same. Fail-over will then happen almost without notice. Most tutorials I read do not tell you about this crucial step.

Make sure you have all this setup on both servers. Since we want Heartbeat to manage our NFS server, we need not to start NFS on boot. To do that, run:

update-rc.d -f nfs-common remove
update-rc.d -f nfs-kernel-server remove

Basic Heartbeat configuration
Install the heartbeat packages is simple:

apt-get install heartbeat

If you’re on CentOS, have a look at the EPEL repository. I’ve successfully setup Heartbeat with those packages as well.

To configure Heartbeat:

vim /etc/ha.d/

Enter this configuration:

autojoin none
auto_failback off
keepalive 2
warntime 5
deadtime 10
initdead 20
bcast eth0
logfile /var/log/heartbeat-log
debugfile /var/log/heartbeat-debug

I set ‘auto_failback’ to off, since I do not want another fail-over when the old primary comes back. If your primary server has better hardware than the secondary one, you may want to set this to ‘on’ instead.

The parameter ‘deadtime’ tells Heartbeat to declare the other node dead after this many seconds. Heartbeat will send a heartbeat every ‘keepalive’ number of seconds.

Protect your heartbeat setup with a password:

echo "auth 3
3 md5 your_secret_password
" > /etc/ha.d/authkeys
chmod 600 /etc/heartbeat/authkeys

You need to select an ip-address that will be your ‘service’-address. Both servers have their own 10.10.0.x ip-address, so choose another one in the same range. I use in this example. Why we need this? Simply because you cannot know to which server you should connect. That’s why we will instruct Heartbeat to manage an extra ip-address and make that alive on the current primary server. When clients connect to this ip-address it will always work.

In the ‘haresources’ file you describe all services Heartbeat manages. In our case, these services are:
– service ip-address
– DRBD disk
– LVM2 service
– Two filesystems
– NFS daemons

Enter them in the order they need to start. When shutting down, Heartbeat will run them in reversed order.

vim /etc/ha.d/haresources

Enter this configuration: \
IPaddr:: \
drbddisk::redundantstorage \
lvm2 \
Filesystem::/dev/redundantstorage/web_files::/redundantstorage/web_files::ext4::nosuid,usrquota,noatime \
Filesystem::/dev/redundantstorage/other_files::/redundantstorage/other_files::ext4::nosuid,usrquota,noatime \
nfs-common \

Use the same Heartbeat configuration on both servers. In the ‘haresources’ file you specify one of the nodes to be the primary. In our case it’s ‘storage-server0’. When this server is or becomes unavailable, Heartbeat will start the services it knows on the other node, ‘storage-server1’ in this case (as specified in the config file).

Wrapping up
DRBD combined with Heartbeat and NFS creates a powerful, redundant storage solution all based on Open Source software. When using the right hardware you will be able to achieve great performance with this setup as well. Think about RAID controllers with SSD-cache and don’t forget the Battery Backup Unit so you can enable the Write Back Cache.

Enjoy building your redundant storage!

16 responses to Building a redundant pair of Linux storage servers using DRBD and Heartbeat


    Promised this link some time ago, but you should really take a look at this. While not easily to automate the process, it’s nice to make a first setup using a GUI:

    Alex Mathiasen 21 January 2013 at 09:54

    Dear Remi,

    First of all, sorry about this unrelated post.

    I assume from the about of blogposts about Cloudstack, that you perhaps are using DRBD within your Cloudstack setup.

    I have a setup with Cloudstack working beautifully with a single DRBD storage, a management server and some host servers.

    However, I wish to add more primary storage from the same DRBD setup and then all hell breaks loose.

    I have the following DRBD storage exported from my setup now:


    However, If I add DRBD1 within my /etc/exports file, the issues begin. Even before I have added the new DRBD storage as Primary storage within my Cloudstack, system VM’s, Routers and VM’s wont start.

    As I have understood, the fsid must be unique, and therefor none of the exported drives must have the same value. So “0” wont do. However I have experienced that Cloudstack wont work with exported drives that doesn’t have a value of “0”.


    This wont work.


    This wont work either.

    Do you have any suggestions to solve this issue? I wish to expand my primary storage, but at the moment I simply can’t get it to work. 😦


      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I’ve been using DRBD too but in a little different setup. I used a LVM layer between the DRBD disk and the partitions. This way, I could enlarge the VG by adding a new DRBD disk (PV) and create new partitions (or enlarge existing ones).

      But this doesn’t make too many difference, because I was also exporting the filesystems (partitions) with different fsid’s. So, I’m sure that should work well.

      Maybe you can add a bit more detail: what doesn’t work exactly, what did you try, what error appears in the logs, etc. I might be able to help you with more info provided :-).

      Let me know!

        Alex Mathiasen 24 January 2013 at 09:14

        Hi Remi,

        Thanks for your reply. 🙂

        Can you perhaps demonstate how your exports file is configured with the different fsid’s?

        I will get back to you with more info, errors etc!


        Hi Alex, it looks like this:


    Alex Mathiasen 31 January 2013 at 16:21

    Dear Remi,

    I have now tried again – This time only with 1 export:


    When I manually mount the NFS share exported on my host server – It works beautifully.

    However I am having these errors occur in my agents.log.

    View at logfile:

    After a while, the host server reboots. Have you seen this issue before?


    Hi Alex,

    In an earlier comment you said you had ‘nohide,crossmnt’ mount options. Did you remove them now? Because I believe they bring more trouble than any good.

    The error seems to be a (network) timeout but I cannot see why that happens. I’d recommend enabling some more debug and maybe ask the guys at the Cloudstack mailinglist or forum. Unfortunately I haven’t access to a working Cloudstack setup anymore so I can’t really say much..

    Sorry I cannot be of any good help here!

      Alex Mathiasen 4 February 2013 at 08:56

      Dear Remi,

      Yes, I removed ‘nohide,crossmnt’ mount options – Had to try something. 🙂

      I am already in dialog with the Cloudstack developers at their mailinglist, I hope that I will find a solution soon.

      Thanks for your help anyway!


    Thanks for this guide. I am trying to make it work.

    However, it seems your guide is missing a few things.

    You don’t seem to indicate that you start heartbeat at any point….or do you just reboot and then it starts?

    Also….I have followed the guide, but when I disconnect the network cable on the first node, the filesystem doesn’t get mounted on the 2nd node.

    The DRBD looks like this:

    version: 8.3.11 (api:88/proto:86-96)
    srcversion: F937DCB2E5D83C6CCE4A6C9
    0: cs:WFConnection ro:Secondary/Unknown ds:UpToDate/DUnknown C r—–
    ns:0 nr:4196916 dw:4196916 dr:88 al:0 bm:250 lo:0 pe:0 ua:0 ap:0 ep:1 wo:f oos:0

    Not sure what I am doing wrong….any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.




      Hi Jim,

      You’re probably right: when both nodes are configured, heartbeat should be started on both.

      As for your DRBD problem: it seems to me DRBD was not in Primary/Secondary connected state when you pulled the plug? I’d expected to see ‘Primary/Unknown’.

      I’d check all (heartbeat and DRBD) config and make sure both nodes are connected in the first place. Then, start by stopping heartbeat on the primary and see if it fails over. Also, ‘pulling the plug’ only works on the interface the heartbeats are send over. Otherwise heartbeat will still see the other node, while DRBD is disconnected. So, check if you’ve used the same interface for heartbeat to send heartbeats and DRBD to send data. You can also configure multiple heartbeat channels, but all of them should be down to start a fail over.

      Good luck and let me know if you managed to get it to work!


    How is your Standard installation? Partitioning, etc

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